Battle for the Bintje: Belguim’s Best Potato…

The Wall Street journal had a front page story about the fate of frites in Belgium. I knew Belgium fries were awesome, having had first hand experience many years ago. I figured part of the reason was tied to my experience on that cold very cold (finger numbing) day in March. A paper cone of fries bought from a food truck were just what I needed to warm myself up.

The story in the Journal talked about the history of frites in Belgium and the particular type of potato (Bintje) that makes their fries taste so incredible. The Bintje type of potato grows well in flat, rainy environment Belgium and fed the nation through two world wars.

“The bintje is irreplaceable in terms of taste and crunchiness. It’s intrinsic to Belgium.” — Pierre Lebrun, agronomist and head of the Walloon potato growers’ association.

Apparently, the Bintje may be an endangered species. The story mentioned that Belgium’s potato production has nearly tripled since 1999, yet Bintje cultivation had stagnated since 1996.

There is a groundswell of support for the Bintje. Here are some interesting facts:

  • Belgium’s per capita annual french fry consumption exceeds America’s by about a third.
  • There’s an iPhone app to help hungry Belgians find fries.
  • The picture-postcard city of Bruges is home to the world’s only french fry museum.

What makes great Frites?

“You have to fry them twice in beef dripping, once at 160 degrees, then again at about 175, and they mustn’t be cut too thinly,” says Paul Ilegems, author of four books on fries and fritkots, the takeout stands that fry them.

This story made me wonder about the status of this type of potato in California. Could it grow in our environment?
I will definitely keep my eyes peeled when visiting farmers markets.


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